Movie Review: ‘GHOSTBUSTERS’ offers charm and the spirit of the original


Bill Graham // Film Critic

GHOSTBUSTERS | 116 min | PG-13
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnonLeslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth

Director Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS is evidence that a healthy reimagining of an old franchise can be a welcome change with updated jokes, an underlying story of friendship, and some truly breathtaking effects. In fact, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start off this review mentioning how slick and good looking the special effects are, in particular the ghosts and the proton guns the various Ghostbusters wield.

There is a sense of otherworldliness that is imbued within both of them. The ghosts have an odd property of weight and interaction with their environment while the proton guns seem to have a kick and are appropriately unwieldy. There’s also a genuine sense of chemistry between all four leads, though, yes, Kate McKinnon is the one that truly shines here. In short, this GHOSTBUSTERS tweaks what didn’t work and keeps the same spirit of the original intact.

The story revolves around a sudden uptick in paranormal events that draws old friends and new together. Kristen Wiig plays the serious minded, uptight, about-to-be-tenured professor Dr. Erin Gilbert who has a long history with Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) as they grew up trying to prove the existence of ghosts before Gilbert gave up and decided to pursue academia. Yates now continues to investigate the paranormal with eccentric friend Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who specializes in nuclear physics. The trio witness a paranormal event together and renewed interest and a suddenly loss of income hurtles all three of them towards trying to make a career out of investigating these activities in New York. Providing the wheels, intimate knowledge of the city, a whole lot of attitude, spunk, and some additional muscle is MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a kind woman that finds her wits tested by the ghosts that continue to plague the city. Eventually they add Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), a dopey but handsome klutzy secretary that continues to be a constant source of comic relief every time he is on screen.

The writing and the character work are the kind that would make you want to follow the main foursome around for any task and much of that credit has to be due to writers Katie Dippold and Paul Feig. That there are genuine stakes stemming from friendship and a general sense of chemistry adds even more heft to the events. They start off by having to experiment and constantly refine their tactics and equipment. Holtzmann is given the task of becoming the weapons expert and is really the one that oddly seems to do most of the inventing. Without her knowledge the team would fail flawlessly. Perhaps, in that way, each of them brings something unique to the table that they all rely upon as a whole. They work well as a team, rarely bickering. They’re decisive as well, as if they’ve been doing it for years. Yet, these are things you won’t likely pick up on until after the film as you reflect back.

Each new demon or ghost is a different style and different problem to solve and it’s a delight to see how the team works out the game plan. The film is strewn with recurring gags and humor that build and play off each other but at times it feels like a direct rehash of the original 1984 classic. There are plenty of cameos and it is clearly a reboot of the franchise overall, giving us an updated Slimer that is never named and rarely interacts with the Ghostbusters. The antagonists outside of the ghosts that are being released end up being similar as well, with someone human that is obsessed with the occult and representatives of the city trying to keep fear and panic from spreading. At one point a character warns the mayor to not act like the mayor from JAWS.

Chris Hemsworth as a  hilariously dim-witted secretary. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Chris Hemsworth as a hilariously dim-witted secretary. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

As science fiction goes, most of the lingo seems pretty well placed and appropriate. I won’t pretend that I have any ability to decipher most of what Holtzmann or any of the other various characters say when it comes to that stuff but it never comes across as complete gibberish either. Even the classic musical score makes a reappearance in the film. Perhaps its adherence to the original’s formula is a detriment as it strains against its nearly two-hour runtime. One less ghost hunt or one less montage might have helped make the film flow much better. Yet, as soon as it starts to feel overlong another great gag or sequence is thrown in to appease you. It’s like Feig has a sixth sense of when the audience might start to tune out and throws another curveball to keep things fresh, like Holtzmann’s odd rah-rah speech that takes full advantage of McKinnon’s deadpan humor.

Again and again I was surprised by GHOSTBUSTERS. I wasn’t expecting to fall for the lovable characters that populate the film. In fact, for many that aren’t fans of McCarthy’s wild antics it would be wise to inform you that Feig reigns her in and she is rarely the loose cannon she often embraces in her other comedic work. Leslie Jones is given appropriate times to be loud and crazy while still having input and smarts when it is called for. And Wiig plays an adorable woman that has zero fashion sense and can’t help but put her foot in her mouth with various interactions.

I also didn’t expect to enjoy some of the action sequences nearly as much as I did. Several key moments got loud applause from the audience and, going back to the excellent special effects revolving around the ghosts — save for the winged demon they fight in the middle — and the proton guns, it makes sense that these would end up being highlights that I recall days after.

Feig has managed to show that he has a great understanding of what makes a GHOSTBUSTERS film tick and gives us more than we likely would have known to ask for.

GHOSTBUSTERS opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.